The Semites

There was another view of man, however. It was found in the third cultural world that I wish to discuss here-the cultural world of the Semites. The cultural outlook of the Semites was radically different from that of the Indo-Europeans. Hence their ethos and their way of using the things of this world were radically different also. I hope to show that the interplay of these two different views forms the backdrop for our own history as Latin Americans. The starting point for our culture does not go back to the independence movements of the early nineteenth century or to the explorations of the sixteenth century. It goes much farther back, to the influences which helped to form the mentality of the European and to fashion the ou tlook of the Church itself.

The Semites did not originate in the Eurasian steppe area. They came from the Arabian desert region. The first Semites known to history were the Akkadians. (The Sumerians were not Semites.) The Akkadians were followed by many other Semitic peoples-such as the Amo-

rites, the Babylonians, and the Phoenicians. The Semites also include the Hebrews and the Arabs. At a certain point in history, just before the start of Christianity, we could very well say that the Indo-Europeans had taken control of the situation. The Roman empire dominated in the west, the Persian empire existed in the Near East, and the Hindu empire predominated farther east. Then a revolution occurred. Christianity, which embodies a Semitic view of the world as we shall see, spread all over the Indo-European area. Islam would come later to complete the trend. This cultural transition, I believe, justifies my hypothesis about three cultural stages. As I noted above, we first have six major civilizations. Then the Indo-European outlook gained dominance in the Eurasian world. Finally, the whole area was "semitized" culturally; and our own culture today shows marked traces of this process.

Let us now consider the outlook of the Semites, which differed radically from that of the Ind.o-Europeans.3

Unitary Anthropology and Intersubjective Bipolarity

First of all, the Semites regarded man as a unity. For the Greeks, man was a participation in the divine and the terrestrial. (Aristotle was an exception here.) Man was man by virtue of the psyche, the "soul," which was an independent substance or ousia in man. The Semites, by contrast, regarded man as a unitary entity. Here we shall use the Hebrews as our example of the Semitic mentality.

Three Hebrew words are relevant here. The word basar signified "flesh," "man," or the "totality," not "body" in the Greek sense. The word nephesh signified "life" rather than "soul" as we use the term. And the word ruah signified the "divine breath" or "spirit."

In the outlook of the Israelites, man was a unity-but a unity totally given in two different orders. One order was that of basar, the "flesh," which is translated in the Greek New Testament as sarx. The other order, which signified man as a wholly open totality, was thatofruah; that term was translated as pneuma in the Greek New Testament.

Paul has an interesting discussion of resurrection (1 Cor. 15), which is more easily understood if we appreciate the distinction in Semitic anthropology between sarx and pneuma. Before the resurrection we have a merely natural or fleshly body, a body in the order of basar. After the resurrection we will have a spiritual body, a body that is wholly in the order of ruah. The contrast is between two totalities that represent two wholly different ways of living. The fleshly man lives in the closed totality of the created world. The spiritual man lives in the world of the divine spirit; he is open to God and his covenant.

A similar outlook can be found in the Koran, where there is no distinction between body and soul. And the Syrian Fathers of the Church use the terms basar and nePhesh to describe equivalent totalities.

The point I want to make here is that man is viewed as a unified and unitary being in the Hebrew tradition and in the Bible. Where dualistic formulations are evident, as in the book of Wisdom for example, it is hellenic influence that is making itself felt. There one reads comments on the corruptible body and on the soul that separates itself from the body after death.

An Ethos of Liberty and Liberation

The ethos deriving from this particular understanding of the world was one which ascribed to man in his totality-not merely the body-the responsibility for the evil in the world. The Hebrew worked out a morality of liberty and liberation.

Liberty was not ascribed to the body or the soul as separate entities. It was ascribed to man in his totality as an autonomous being. The myth of Adam attempts to explain the mystery of evil and its origin. This account tells us that evil is not brought about by God, nor is it a god; instead it has its roots in the liberty of man, in the liberty of Adam. Adam is not presented as someone tragically enslaved, but as someone dramatically tempted as a free agent. In the eyes of the Semite, the body was not the root of evil but the root of liberty. Instead of maintaining an ethos of dualistic forces, the Semite followed an ethos of liberty and liberation.

If the reader would like to explore the meaning and deeper import of the myth of Adam, I would recommend that he or she read a book by Paul Ricoeur on the symbolism of evil. He provides a good analysis of the problem of good and evil as described in the book of Genesis.4 In his analysis he uses the term "myth" in a different sense than Bultmann does; he shows just how myth can be regarded as something reasonable and rational. Symbol, because of its ambivalence, is likewise as important and ne(:essary today in our technological age. Ricoeur tackles this important subject in a later book.5

Perjection as Personal Commitment and Involvement

A third area where the Semitic outlook differs radically from that of the Indo-European is the area of personallife and the quest for perfection. For the Semite, intersubjectiv-ity is a necessary prerequisite for perfection. Whereas the Greek sought to escape the body and interpersonal relationships in order to attain perfection, the Hebrew saw man as a totality interrelated with other human totalities. Man could be saved only in this intersubjective web of relationships. The Hebrew could not be saved alone, by contemplating the divine in solitude. He could be saved only by belonging to the people of Abraham, sharing the promise and hoping for its fulfillment. The Hebrew felt closely bound up with his forefathers, and ultimately with Ab raham: hence the great concern for genealogy in the Old Testament.

Lacking such intersubjectivity, neither the Hebrew nor the Arab Muslim could be saved. Perfection was always a community affair. He had to belong to thepolis, the "city of God"; in that sense perfection was always a "political" matter. For the Greek, by contrast, perfection was utterly apolitical.

The Greek sage would attain perfection by solitary contemplation. The Semite would attain perfection by active involvement in his community and personal commitment to history. Hence Semitic perfection is the perfection of the prophet, who gives his life to the task of liberating the community of the poor and the oppressed. A prophet such as Moses must go and tell his people what God has told him. He is bound to history and to personal involvement. Semitic perfection, then, is personal involvement in the task of liberating the community. The "Servant of Yahweh" (see Isa. 40ff.) must be willing to give up his life for his community.

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